SIMULEX18 – Afterthought

July 15, 2018 in Member Interviews, U.S.A.R.

A thought worth sharing …

 

In earlier correspondence the editorial team did divulge to our readers that the EFRU was once again heading a multi-national event scheduled for March 2018. It went by the name SIMULEX18 and like its predecessor events, it brought much to the plate of each and every EFRU member. In retrospect, there is no denying that the whole thing was a huge success… yet while the majority of us lay in tatters, trying to regain our energy in the week following the big weekender, Maria, our deputy director and captain of the gigantic, energy-consuming boat that was SIMULEX18, was putting pen to paper. There are no words the editorial team could have written better to capture what this was all about. There is no other way we would want this to be remembered. This is why we choose to share the following thoughts, straight from Maria’s pen, with you, our faithful readers. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we did!

 

Five days later and I lie here, scrutinising each and every photograph that skilled photographers have yielded thanks to long hours on the field – hours which they spent alongside the Emergency Fire & Rescue Unit (EFRU) and the operational volunteer rescuers of The European Association of Civil Protection Volunteer Teams (EVOLSAR).  The various uniforms, worn by rescuers from all around Europe, standing next to each other, supporting one another in the several simulated rescue operations… an awe-inspiring sight and an amazing feeling, to say the least.  This mental image alone bears witness to the truth we have firmly believed in since before the conception of EVOLSAR: it is possible for rescuers with different backgrounds to come together, work in a rescue environment and function as one multinational team. A theory tried and tested, which now stands proven, to my own (and our members’) delight and reassurance!

The concept of the SIMULEX 18 project was created back in October / November 2016 by the EFRU strategists with the support of our proposal writers who joined forces to present a proposal to the Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation (MCCFF).  We were honoured to find out, months later, that the MCCFF accepted our proposal and supported us all along to reach the goals of this project: Volunteer Rescuer Team Preparedness in Emergency Response.

The concept

The basis behind this project lies with the fact that Malta is an archipelago of islands, physically separated from other countries and relatively limited in resources – especially human resources – should a major disaster strike.  The EFRU has, through its membership within EVOLSAR, come up with a concept that could support Malta in terms of the rescuer human resource in a disaster.  Within a few hours, foreign rescuers from other European countries, could reach Malta, by sea or plane (depending on available routes of access) and provide their support vis-à-vis the human resource whilst operating under the EFRU umbrella.  This would be possible as the EFRU is, through EVOLSAR, building on its capacity of trained and professional rescue personnel to operate together irrespective of the team or country that they come from. 

Thanks to the funding of this project, EFRU invested in two rapid deployable tents for use in incident command. These could be used as medical triage but could also double up as sleeping and mess quarters, in the field, close to a disaster area.  Rescue personnel from abroad, together with the local EFRU rescuers would form teams that are fully functional in support of the local emergency response efforts, thus increasing the efficiency of the local response. This on-going project includes two simulative rescue operations – one being SIMULEX18 – just held 5 days ago.  It saw around 40 local personnel operating alongside 40 foreign rescuers, split into two operational shifts whereby each shift operated with two sub-rescue teams.  Simulated scenarios included live and deceased casualties lost in rubble in the hypothetical aftermath of an earthquake. Some casualties needed immediate medical attention in sites that are not reachable on foot, thus required rope access, while others were trapped in confined spaces.

The interoperability being promoted through this project would benefit Malta in the immediate aftermath of a disaster where part of the Maltese Emergency response systems could get crippled because of the nature of our islands.  Getting the support of trained rescue personnel from abroad under the umbrella of EVOLSAR could circumvent long bureaucratic procedures ultimately for the benefit of Malta and the Maltese community.

Preparations

From bench to launch the hurdles seem huge.  In reality, the challenges are there all along, but a closely-knit team will leave no stone unturned in attaining what it wishes to achieve.  SIMULEX18 was a classical example.  The quantum of work could be felt from at least three months earlier.  Sub-committees led by the EFRU executive were created and instigated to work towards goals that we all believed in.

The level of preparation that such a project entails is overwhelming, but once the limits are set, targets are cast and work begins.  Flexibility, all along, is key.  Bearing in mind that all personnel working incessantly on such an activity is a must.  Apart from being volunteers, our members are also full-time employees, students, husbands and wives with demanding work and family commitments in the absolute majority of cases.  The hardships of personal and professional life are obvious, but those aside, our volunteer rescuers also sacrifice their already-limited time towards the EFRU’s cause and the success of such events.  To say that this is simply admirable would be an understatement. 

Just to mention a few of the multitude of preparations that are involved for such an event, I would start at the logistics. To take care of 40 foreigners from as soon as they land, till their time of departure is no easy feat. In addition to this, is an endless list of tasks: recceing and choosing rescue simulation locations, planning the simulations to precision, determining where to set up the base of operations and all the arrangements required for the latter to function well, compiling the modus operandi of the incident command, obtaining necessary permits and support from third parties where required, administrative tasks… This while ensuring internal alignment on all fronts – keeping the team and sub-teams well informed all along.  Nothing just falls in its place without long hours of planning and brainstorming sessions within small fora where strategies are developed and decided upon.  All of these steps take time and no one step may be missed.

Implementation kicks off a couple of days prior to the actual event and timelines become extremely tight as soon as foreigners arrive in Malta.  The discipline of our team is admirable. When one commits to something, rest assured, it will get done, one way or another.  The team is reliable.  Just prior to the simulation kick off, heads come together to re-align on the fine details.  Operational teams need to be briefed and the conduct of the brief (and the detail to which it is done) is critical.  Continuous communication between the leaders of the different sub-teams is a must for the smooth-running of the entire event.  Moreover, in a 24-hour simulation of the like, one is testing stamina.  The day may start off as a warm one but during the night, the cold gets to you.  Hunger strikes at times you don’t predict and food is not continuously accessible.  Being at the organisational end of it, the weight of your responsibilities start wearing you down but your attention needs to remain undivided.  If you are a team leader you need to keep your team motivated, especially if you cannot take intervals of rest at all due to the role.  As you go along, during the simulation, logistical problems need to be solved, in the shortest time possible, in the most efficient way. 

In the incident command teams, the nature of the work necessitates that responsible personnel are generally sitting down for long periods of time.  The cold starts affecting the senses and the frame of mind but we find ways to keep each other alert. Interest is retained by keeping up the frequent discussion and occasional humouristic punch-lines.  Being in incident command has its disadvantages as well.  One sees the stereotypical ‘bigger picture’ where the operations are concerned, but is denied participation.  Motivational levels may tend to subside unless fired up by the team spirit, such as that which prevailed during SIMULEX18. Also worthy of note is the fact that this year EFRU took a step forward in incident command and made use of standard tools of the United Nations for the management of documentation necessary for the Incident Command.  This was a very interesting challenge that all EFRU members took pride in whilst experiencing for the first time, at first hand.

Support from Third Parties

This project would not have made it past the launching line without the support of entities that believed in the value of the concept right from the start.  The concept of interoperability was well received by the evaluation board of the MCCFF and the EFRU saw a strong element of support all along during the first year of this project. Such support was sought from entities such as the Mosta Scouts group as well as the Scouts Association of Malta for the use of the base of operations and simulation sites.  Albeit a hard challenge, the EFRU finally obtained the support of the Maltese authorities for much needed permits for certain simulations.

Entities such as Vodafone, printing presses and food suppliers supported EFRU with the provision of internet keys for the event, printed material, marketing material and food supplies at no or extremely reduced costs. It is thanks to the belief of the MCCFF, other non-profit organisations and commercial entities that such an event could be moulded into a successful one by the able EFRU team of rescue volunteers.

Well done Team!  The pride of being part of this amazing team is, simply put, indescribable.

 

Iona Muscat – Rescuer & Newsletter Editor

 

The Emergency Fire & Rescue Unit, Malta.

The Emergency Fire & Rescue Unit (EFRU) is a non-profit, voluntary organization, specializing in Basic and Advanced Rescue; Cliff Rescue; High Angle Rescue; Basic and Advanced Fire-Fighting; USAR, USAR – K9 and First Aid.Learn more on www.efru.org Or e-mail info@efru.net for more information.This video is being launched as part of a project funded by the Small Initiatives Scheme of the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector.#EFRU #rescue #malta #jointheEFRU #volunteering #SproutMedia #MCVS #EVOLSAR #USAR #TakingPrideInHelpingOthersSprout Media

Posted by Emergency Fire & Rescue Unit on Saturday, June 30, 2018